The Reawakening is a cultural and cinematic milestone in American cinema. It is the first independent feature film produced by Native people. Produced by American Indian Artists Inc. in 21 days during summer and fall of 2003 on the Onondaga Nation and New York City, the film has the support of the Onondaga Nation Council, the elders and citizens of the Nation and many people throughout Indian country in North America. The film features the music of Shadowyze, who won a 2005 Native American Music Award for Best Rap/Hip Hop Recording, "Red Hawk Woman" (

artist photoDiane Fraher (Osage) has written and directed a story of one man’s, Robert Doctor’s, struggle to acknowledge where he comes from before he can know where he truly belongs. In choosing to accept himself and his fate, his choice is one between opportunism, and loyalty and tradition. In these times of extreme politics this message transcends the limitations of culture, time and place and reaches out to resonate across generational and cultural lines.


The Reawakening is a character-driven dramatic feature film of contemporary Native American tradition and culture, based on the themes of personal redemption and the power of love.

For many years Native American attorney Robert Doctor has made a successful life for himself in New York City, miles away for his home on the Onondaga Nation. He has come to love his affluent life-style and the admiration of his fellow attorneys at the white shoe law firm where he is being groomed to become a partner. His luxurious life is perfect now except for recurring visions of a sinister dark spirit, an unwanted visitor from a dark past on the reservation he left 15 years ago when his grandfather, a Chief, was mysteriously murdered.

The brutal murder of a prison guard during an uprising thrusts Doctor back into the middle of reservation business and threatens his carefully built existence when a tribal elder pays him an unexpected visit. The elder asks him to defend David Hill, his childhood friend, who is accused of the guard’s murder. Defending corporations against lawsuits, Doctor has effectively mainstreamed to a point where no one in his law firm even considers him an Indian. He is even more confounded when coincidentally, his firm orders Doctor to represent a new client with ambitions to open a $600,000,000 casino on the Onondaga Nation. Going back to the Nation, to prepare for David’s defense and sell the elders on the casino, Robert faces his choice. The choice he makes will be between his own ambition and the enduring traditions of his people.

Artistic Approach

The Reawakening is a contemporary story set in the corporate legal world. It is an action story depicting prison life in a very racially corrupt prison bureaucracy. It is also a story of personal redemption. How can an “urban” Indian, balance an affluent life style with the traditional ways of his Native background?

The Reawakening portrays the struggle for personal redemption through a return to traditional Native American spiritual values, the love of family, childhood friends and the elders of the Nation.

Photographed in Super 16mm format and blown-up to 35mm format, The Reawakening cuts back and forth between the Edward Steichen-inspired cityscape of a white shoe law firm and elegant Manhattan neighborhoods, to the lush colored scenery of a reservation in central New York State. The rhythm of the cutting further underlines cultural differences, as moments of fast-paced action and great tension alternate with moments of reflection and contemplation. Vivid images of the cold gray hardness of a prison contrast with flashbacks of childhood memories of a simpler life on an upstate New York reservation. The lacrosse stick is the symbol, which evokes the traditional culture and life style of the central character. As a visual image, it is woven throughout the film, and helps to unify the story.

The Reawakening is a story about “who you are and where you come from” and about making choices. Flashbacks and dream sequences are filmed in black and white photography to help transport the audience through the journey of conscience that the two central characters must take in order to be redeemed. These dreams and memories reveal the nurturing security of tradition and the wounds that can only be healed through a return to those values.

A dark spirit, an old Indian man with a twisted body, who is so evil there are snakes growing out of his head, periodically visits the central character of The Reawakening. This spirit, who is ultimately transformed, represents the “power of the good mind” and its miraculous ability for rebirth. The sound of the wind swirling around city skyscrapers down through steel canyons, and through the peaks and valleys of the Central New York State woodlands is a recurring theme that will evoke the calling of the spirits.

The music of award-winning contemporary Native Musician Shadowyze (Shawn Enfinger-Muskogee Creek) and traditional Iroquois social songs performed by Tracy and Robert J. Shenandoah (Onondaga) support these contrasts as well as reflect the inner turmoil of Robert Doctor as he struggles between returning to his traditional culture and pursuing a course of opportunism and blind ambition.

American Indian Artists Inc. was honored to have award winning cinematographer Jeri Sopanen (My Dinner With Andre, The Luckiest Man in the World, The Gig, A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy) as the cinematographer. Mr. Sopanen’s wide experience in both feature and documentary films brought the necessary stylistic elements of both to achieve the cinematic contrasts.





The Story